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In Illinois, the Keeping Youth Safe and Healthy Act (Senate Bill 818) was enacted in August 2021. This legislation creates personal health and safety standards for grades K-5 and updates and expands sex education standards in grades 6-12. These standards will be shared with schools by August 1, 2022. The Keeping Youth Safe and Healthy Act brings sex education in Illinois into the 21st Century by ensuring that it is both comprehensive and inclusive. This begs the question, why is comprehensive, inclusive sexuality education needed in schools? Let’s begin by understanding what is meant by these terms followed by why it’s critical for our students.
What is comprehensive sexuality education?
In the Keeping Youth Safe and Health Act, comprehensive is defined as “developmentally appropriate education that aligns with the National Sex Education Standards, including information on consent and healthy relationships, anatomy and physiology, puberty and adolescent sexual development, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation and identity, sexual health and interpersonal violence.”
In other words, comprehensive sexuality education is age-appropriate and addresses the physical, mental, social and emotional aspects of human sexuality. Concepts are taught in a very planned and sequential way in which topics are built upon over time and introduced when students are developmentally able to understand and process them. The curriculum is designed to encourage and help students maintain and improve their sexual health, prevent disease and reduce risk-taking behaviors.
What is meant by inclusive?
The Act defines inclusive as: “inclusion of marginalized communities that include, but are not limited to people of color, immigrants, people of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities, gender expressions, people who are intersex, people with disabilities, people who have experienced interpersonal and sexual violence and others.”
As with any good teaching, the goal of using an inclusive curriculum is that students feel that the content that is being taught is relevant to them, so that they are open to hearing the information. In order to reach that goal, it is critical that the material be culturally appropriate, trauma informed and sensitive to the needs of all students, all of which is written into the new legislation.
Why is comprehensive, inclusive sexuality education needed in our schools?
Comprehensive sexuality education is needed in schools as part of a complete health education curriculum that arms students with the knowledge and skills needed to make healthy decisions about their bodies. Health education reinforces positive, healthy behaviors and assists students in avoiding negative behaviors. Evaluations of comprehensive sexuality education consistently show that when offered in schools, it does NOT increase the likelihood of sexual activity. In fact, comprehensive sexuality education is shown to help youth delay the onset of sexual activity, reduce frequency of sexual activity, reduce the number of sexual partners and increase the use of contraceptive use (“Comprehensive Sex Education and Academic Success,” Advocates for Youth, 2010).
When teens account for nearly half of all sexually transmitted infection (STI) cases in the United States and teen pregnancy continues to make it difficult for some teens to remain in school, the need for comprehensive sex education cannot be ignored. In addition to tackling the topics of pregnancy and STIs, comprehensive sex education addresses important topics such as consent and healthy relationships. When Illinois Youth Survey data indicates that 13% of high school students have experienced teen dating violence, it becomes evident that further education regarding sexual harassment and sexual assault are essential.
Young people today receive many messages about sexuality from the digital media they consume and comprehensive sexuality education will help them to navigate those messages and make informed decisions. When left to their own devices, young people will undoubtedly find plenty of information on their sexual and reproductive health, but will it be accurate and honest? Often the answer is no. In a 2020 study, young people ages 15-24 were asked to share their most common sources of information about sexual and reproductive health. 31% said friends/peers followed by 29% naming the internet.
That is where the Keeping Youth Safe and Healthy Act comes in. By providing students with comprehensive and inclusive sexuality education, schools can help students protect their sexual health and avoid outcomes that could negatively impact their future goals and plans. Join us at Candor Health Education, in providing young people with the comprehensive, inclusive sexuality education they need and deserve.
Written by: Katie Gallagher-Director of Education, Candor Health Education